Tales of a Fourth-Generation Construction Manager
More than a century ago, carpenter Joe Spiegelglass maneuvered a pushcart through the streets of downtown St. Louis in search of work repairing the city’s storefronts.
Today, his great grandson, Tim Spiegelglass, continues that family legacy from the suburban St. Louis offices of Spiegelglass Construction Company.
As vice president, Tim is the fourth-generation successor of the one-man operation Joe launched in 1904. Tim’s dad, Barry, serves as president of the company, which now specializes in managing the construction of restaurants, retail and office spaces throughout the region.
Eateries are Tim’s bread and butter, and his client list is a who’s who of popular chain restaurants, including Panera Bread, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, First Watch, Bonefish Grill and Shake Shack. The company also oversaw construction of the Arch Café, which recently opened in the newly expanded Gateway Arch underground museum and visitors center.
Tim’s career path was carved at an early age. As a young boy, he regularly helped his dad at the office and cleaned up jobsites on the weekends. In high school, he drove the company truck around town and learned more about the business. “We were building Panera Breads like crazy at the time, so I would haul around leftover materials from one job to the next,” he says. “And back in those days, there was no Home Depot so you had to go to five different places to get a list of materials.”
Those experiences helped shape Tim’s strong work ethic. “Every morning, starting in high school, my father and I met at the kitchen table at 6 a.m. for breakfast and he told me what I was doing for the day,” he says. “It taught me that you show up for work everyday, on time and with a good attitude. I don’t even use an alarm anymore; I just wake up and I’m ready to go out the door by 6 a.m.”
Tim attended Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., which offered one of the first construction management programs in the region. He eventually transferred to Southwest Missouri State University (now known as Missouri State University) because its program focused on smaller commercial construction projects.
After graduation, his dad encouraged him to cut his teeth at another company before joining the family business.
“I went out to California to visit a friend and fell in love with San Diego,” Tim says. “I lived on the beach for five years and built medical offices that housed MRI machines.”
About four years into his tenure with that employer, he and his boss decided to start a competing construction company, which he co-managed until deciding to return to St. Louis in 2004 (the 100th anniversary of Spiegelglass Construction Company).
“My wife and I had just gotten married, and I felt like it was time to come home,” he says. “We were talking about kids and buying a house. The company was so busy my dad asked me to come back, and I was ready.”
A few years later, Tim’s Uncle Mel retired from Spiegelglass Construction and Tim took an active role in reshaping the company’s business strategy.
“Before 2008, we were doing a lot of work in-house. At one time, we had more than 20 carpenters, a warehouse, a truck and a huge payroll,” Tim says. “Today, we run a lot leaner than we previously did, partnering with great subcontractors that love working with us.”
Tim and Barry each oversees his own projects, working closely with a couple of in-house project managers. Tim specializes in franchises and restaurants with multiple locations, while his dad focuses on clients with single venues.
Most of the company’s project opportunities come from repeat clients or referrals from clients, architects or developers.
Sometimes, a previous client from many years ago will call unexpectedly with a new project opportunity. More than 20 years after building the original Ces & Judy’s Catering space at La Chateau Village in St. Louis county, the company tapped Spiegelglass Construction to oversee the construction of The Venue at Maison du Lac, a contemporary 7,000-sq.-ft. event space that just opened in Catawissa, Mo.
“We do everything to keep our clients happy so the next time they want to build, there’s no question they come to us to build it,” Tim says.
Driven to Build
One of Tim’s favorite aspects of his job is the fast pace. Though many of the firm’s projects last more than a year, the majority are in the eight- to 16-week range.
“Every day really means something on our jobs, and they have to be done on time,” he says. “Clients will lose their staff if it’s delayed.”
He also enjoys bringing his wife and three daughters to eat at a restaurant he helped bring to life.
“Usually the people there know me; it’s a very good feeling,” he says.
Unlike countless other family businesses, there’s not a hint of disharmony or drama in this one.
“My dad and I get along so well it’s just unbelievable,” says Tim. “We’ve never had a major disagreement. If you ask me a question and ask him a question, you’re probably going to get a lot of the same answers. Strategically, we’re very aligned.”
Though Tim never had an opportunity to meet his grandfather or great-grandfather, he knows they’d be proud of the current-day family business.
“I think they’d be really surprised to see just how far it’s actually come,” he says. “Both of them were really just trying to make a living.”
Pictured (from left): Joe, Harold, Barry and Tim Spiegelglass.
Previous A/E/C Stories posts:
Top 5 Marketing Dos and Dont's
Discovering the 3D World of Experiential Graphic Design
3 Essential Tips for Launching a Successful Communications Career
Fate Led This Aspiring Architect Toward a Career in Photography
Detroit Native Returns Home to Accelerate the City's Revival
Reflections on Three Decades of Architectural Recruiting
Career Shift: From Sports Journalist to Construction Storyteller
An Entrepreneur Who Helps A/E/C Firms Share Knowledge
A/E/C Podcasting Duo: Why Two Branding Pros Joined Forces
Embracing the 'Organized Chaos' of Modern PR
An Ambassador and Champion of Design Talent
How to Overcome the Construction Labor Shortage: Hire More Women
Attracting the Next Generation of A/E/C Superstars
An Architect Who Reimagines Classic Buildings and Classic Songs